Hindsight offers the edge of definitive lessons but what do you learn when the result was utter destruction. ‘The Legend of Virinara’ by Usha Alexandar is an intriguing take on the genre of historical fiction with a strong philosophical undertone. Through the story of Shanti and her perspective in the events that led up to the destruction of Virinara the author raises many questions on morality, hypocrisy, individual and national identity. Shanti’s tale is one that poses the conundrum, is there a right choice when individual integrity as a citizen of a nation and individual values of equality and justice begin to contradict and collide.
Rise and fall of Virinara
Virinara is a kingdom that is growing fast under its newly crowned king Vijay who has taken up the crown after the untimely death of his father. His claim to the throne is unchallenged because of his pure blood Illara heritage. Shanti is his sole blood relative while the rest of the royal family is step siblings, step mothers, etc. The previous king was a hardliner and arrogant with a temper to match. Vijay fights to find a balance between his father’s teachings of absolute justice and his mother’s teachings of kindness.
The city of Dandavrut is the capital of Virinara kingdom, built on the edge of Niryalli River and bordered by the forest where the Gontu dwell. The Gontu are forest tribal, who live in a nomadic lifestyle in harmony with the forest. As in every tale the conflict of Virinara and Gontu was inevitable. As Dandavrut expands into the forest to increase farming lands it encroaches on Gontu territory. This conflict is the seed to the events that end in destruction of both parties.
Shanti is a discarded, cripple, barren and ill-fated princess, who has no royal standing because her father disowned her. It is only after her father’s death and Vijay’s ascension that Shanti comes into her own being and exercises her will and freedom. She is an intellectual with little interest in the politics or power that comes with being born as royalty. Her curiosity and artistic mindset draw her away from the place and towards scholarly pursuits. She finds herself enamoured and embroiled into the liberated lives of Gontu people.
Shanti as the survivors of this tragedy, victim of situations despite being born into a place of power and one who shares bonds with both sides of conflict presents an interesting narrative voice that constantly swings back and forth. The ambiguity presented is undeniably true and realistic making the tale rather compelling and impactful. The author doesn’t attempt to give any easy answers but possess where fundamental but profound questions. The book is deceptive in its premise as a simple historical fiction but is very intense and hence may not be for everyone. If you want a whole lot of serious in your fiction, then this book is for you.
By: Shirish Kumar